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Despite Local Optimism, the Cowboys Are Flying into 2024 under the Radar

The Cowboys are underrated nationally, once again.

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[Devin Wilber/PFB]

Mike Gundy might have them right where he wants them.

Oklahoma State is fresh off a trip to the Big 12 Championship game and returns a Big 3 that includes the nation’s top rusher, the league’s most experienced passer and its No. 2 returning receiver. For all those reasons, you might expect college football’s talking heads to be gushing with optimism for the 2024 Cowboys. Not quite.

This spring, the Cowboys were given just the eighth-best odds to win the league, despite the departure of bell cows Oklahoma and Texas, and have just 200:1 odds to win the College Football Playoff, according to numbers reported by Brett McMurphy earlier this month. They share those odds with Colorado, Louisville, SMU, Texas Tech and Washington. So why the lack of love both in Vegas and around the league?

While most of us around here are hyper-focused on a 10-win team that returns so much, let’s not forget the impression the Pokes left on the more casual observers. It was not the Texas Bowl win over the Aggies. It was rather a pair of head-scratching losses to South Alabama and UCF, as well as that four-touchdown thumping they took in the Big 12 Championship thanks to the outgoing Longhorns.

For OSU fans, it depends on which way you measure your beverage. The glass-half-full crowd is excited about a team that returns nearly all of its production after winning 10 games and making its second Big 12 Championship in three years.

In addition to the Big 3, OSU also returns five starters along an offensive line that 247 ranked as the top in the nation. The team returns 21 of its 22 starters from both sides of the ball and T-2nd in returning production, according to a metric from ESPN’s Bill Connelly. The Cowboys, by the way, are ranked No. 20 in Connelly’s post-spring S&P rating, behind only No. 17 Kansas State among Big 12 teams.

“This is the most returning experience that we’ve had,” Gundy told 247Sports. “These guys really like each other. The portal for us settled down. A few years ago we had a big run, and it was almost like a domino effect. One guy said he’s going in and so, well, if you’re going to go, I’m gonna go. Well, if you guys are going, I’m gonna go.”

The not-so-optimistic might point to the fact that all those returners made up a team that was, at times, frustrating and, more often confounding, and always wacky.

But regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, just know that Gundy is not too concerned either way. Entering Year 20 at the helm, he’s seen plenty of odds and enough preseason rankings to know how little they matter.

Last year, OSU was also picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 and was unranked in the preseason AP ranking, and despite the aforementioned hiccups, the Cowboys won the final Bedlam and made their third conference title game in the last three years. In fact, of OSU’s eight double-digit win seasons under Gundy, four came after the Pokes were unranked in the preseason AP Top 25.

If he’s honest, I bet Gundy would prefer OSU play the sleeping giant rather than the steamrolling hype train that fans would like to hop onto. Cliche or not, coach speak is coach speak for a reason. That being said, the Cowboys’ returning experience and continued turnover in the Big 12 seems to set up nicely for OSU to build off last season and could pave the way for a third trip to Arlington this decade. Just don’t tell anyone.

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